- 2 December 1998
- Eleven Chef Pants Remnants
- Years ago I was working with a friend from Cherryland who wore strange pants. It wasn't until we were well into the project that I learned the pants weren't from a used clothing store; they were his old chef pants from his previous life working in a five-star restaurant.
I remembered the incident recently when I spotted remnants of chef pants on the street outside a sweatshop. I kept eleven of them.
Eleven Chef Pants Remnants is available in the PDF format; the technical bits about the PDF format are also available.
- 3 December 1998
- U.S. Army Photo Archive #304-534
- A friend sent me a copy of an unconsciously surreal photograph titled U.S. Army Photo Archive #304-534. (I wonder if the phrase "unconsciously surreal" is repetitiously redundant?) The photograph purports to show a U.S. Army officer pointing to a burning pile of something or another. I guess he's pointing just in case the viewer of the image failed to notice that part of the photograph.
The burning pile of something or another is supposed to be a pair of Hitler's pants, the ones he was wearing on 20 July 1944 during the failed assassination attempt. The caption explains that the pants were destroyed to "prevent their symbolic worship of what Hitler stood for."
The whole thing sounds like a forgery, but it's hard to tell when it comes to the military. Army facts can be weirder than the strangest civilian fiction.
- 4 December 1998
- A Small But Pleasant Earthquake
- An earthquake woke me up just before dawn this morning; that made me very happy, very happy indeed. The only time I've ever felt as fully awake as being in an earthquake is when scary people have pointed guns at me. Like most other people living in fault zones, I'd prefer to have an earthquake pointed at me than a gun.
I've always enjoyed a good San Francisco earthquake, and this morning's tremor was no exception. The building creaked, and the big beam I sleep under creaked the loudest and squeaked the most. That was exciting: spare the fear and spoil the earthquake.
- 5 December 1998
- Please Your Dog
- As I've mentioned previously, one of my favorite San Francisco landmarks has survived much longer than I would have expected. I'm talking about a sign on a building on a busy San Francisco street corner that once read "Please curb your dog" in black letters on a white background. Some fifteen years ago someone used a bit of white paint to shorten the admonition to "Please your dog." When I walked by it today, I was relieved to see it was still there, and surprised to see it has become institutionalized. The building recently got a new coat of tan paint, which zealous workers extended onto the sign just in case anyone had any ideas about undoing the old edit.
I once considered editing the sign myself to read "Please your cat," an idea I've since abandoned. "Please your dog" has been there so long it deserves to stay. Anyway, cats can take care of themselves.
- 6 December 1998
- Not a Real Bohemian
- Some well-to-do friends visiting from the north were somewhat surprised at the rather Spartan environs of my laboratory. I explained that I enjoyed the life of a bohemian. This lead to a long discussion about the nature of a bohemian--or was it Bohemian? (I still don't know why I used the word "bohemian" instead of "Spartan;" it must have been the three days of wake and bake.)
I am, of course, not a bohemian at all, as was pointed out to me by my closest friend. "You're not a bohemian, dear, you're just white trash." I never thought of myself that way before, but she was absolutely right.
- 7 December 1998
- On Artists and Ants
- I asked Juliette to compare and contrast artist colonies and ant colonies. Without hesitating, she said:
1. More productivity.
2. More ambition.
- 8 December 1998
- The Welcome Levity of Thelma Pickles
- I read today that John Lennon's first girlfriend was named Thelma Pickles. That bit of trivia seems both significant and terribly funny eighteen years to the day after John Lennon was murdered.
- 9 December 1998
- Pete's Fortune
- Earlier this year Pete went to a palm reader and got some bad news. The fortune teller told him he would have three great loves in his life: one that would end in his twenties, one that would end in his thirties. And after that, he'd have to wait until his eighties for the third one.
Pete didn't take it too seriously since at the time he was engaged to his great love of the thirties, an engagement that ended not too long after having his palm read. That's too bad, I suppose, but Pete's dealing with the situation with the energy, resourcefulness and good luck I'd expect. Pete makes his own fortune, which is always the best fortune. I must make a note to drop him a line in half a century and ask about his love life.
- 10 December 1998
- Contemplating a Dead Cat
- I was walking to the train station when I saw a handsome ginger cat asleep in the sun ahead of me on one of San Francisco's few remaining dirt sidewalks. I looked again then realized the cat wasn't sleeping; it was dead.
I was surprised at how amazed I was. After all, death seems like such a common occurrence; I hear about it every day in the news and see it every day on someone's plate. Had it been in a barrel of unwanted cats that had been "put to sleep" because there were no homes for them I wouldn't have been very disconcerted. That's the sad fate of millions of cats every year. Even if I saw some horrible video of a cat being butchered for someone's dinner, I probably would have only grimaced and turned away. I know that too happens all the time.
I suppose what was so disconcerting about today's discovery was the sheer ordinariness of it. The cat showed no signs of physical injury, it was just stretched out in the warm morning sun like so many other cats I've seen.
- 11 December 1998
- An Alarming Loss of Identity
- There's something different about the most recent vintage of Rainier Ale in the thirst-quenching forty-ounce bottles and I don't like it, I don't like it one bit. After I tossed the bottle cap on the pile of other Rainier Ale bottle caps beside my desk, I noticed the most recent top was a generic bronze instead of the calming pine green of the previous editions. Most importantly, it didn't have the lovely script logo that's become synonymous in my mind with the mountain itself.
Perhaps the master brewers decided to cut costs on packaging to buy better hops, but I doubt it. It still tasted like the same blend of jet fuel and lighter fluid, but what a blend! That's the magic, or at least part of it.
It's late, so I'll leave the question of why they bother to make the caps resealable for another night.
- 12 December 1998
- No Seven-person Motorcycle
- I rode around San Francisco on the back of Ali's bike tonight. The weather was unusually cold, and her body heat made the chilly ride bearable.
When we got back to the laboratory, I mentioned how much I appreciated her warmth. I told her that a seven-person motorcycle would probably be very popular with Siberian commuters since the five riders sandwiched between the driver and the last passenger would be relatively warm.
Ali, who knows much more about motorcycles than I do, suggested such a bike wouldn't be commercially feasible because there are very few Siberian commuters.
- 13 December 1998
- Some friends were talking about organizing a benefit concert, but they had a problem. A consultant told them they needed something to differentiate their proposed benefit concert from ten thousand other concerts, but they couldn't come up with anything.
I suggested they think about the example of the "unplugged" concerts that became popular several years ago. (In case you missed it, an "unplugged" concert involved musicians playing songs on acoustic instruments that they'd previously recorded using electric instruments.)
I advised them to consider an "undrugged" concert. This would involve musicians who usually perform under the influence of drugs performing completely sober for the novel occasion.
My friends thanked me for the free advice; they said it was well worth it and that I'd get a backstage pass if they presented an undrugged concert. I thanked them for their generosity, but said I wasn't interested: what's the point of a backstage pass if there's no free beer?
- 14 December 1998
- I bought a new brand of cheap red wine, and made the mistake of trying to uncork it without removing the plastic "foil" on top of the magnum bottle. The corkscrew went in easily enough, but when I pulled it out the cork remained intact. I then discovered that there was no cork, the bottle was, to use the words of another manufacturer, "sealed with a screwcap to maintain freshness and quality."
Since the bottle top now had a hole in it, I had no choice but to drink the entire bottle at once. The wine at the bottom of the bottle tasted much better than the wine at the top; I think the vintners may have blended varietals of different specific gravities.
- 15 December 1998
- The Rich Bastards Club
- I snuck into the Rich Bastards Club at Schiphol airport and was shocked to discover that the only beer they had was Heineken, which is Dutch for "Budweiser." (In the latter case, I am of course referring to the American beer-flavored water speciously marketed as real beer.)
I sat down in a lounge chair next to a guy who looked as out of place in the Rich Bastards Club as I did. I began a conversation by complaining about the beer and found he shared my opinion. I then went on to describe how I fooled the receptionist into letting me in and asked him how he got by her.
"I just showed her my card," he replied with a shrug.
"Card?" I asked. "I thought you had to fly a hundred kilometers a year to get one of those Rich Bastards Club cards."
"I do. I'm a drug dealer; I'm always flying."
Since English wasn't his native language, I wasn't sure whether he was trying to make a pun.
He said he might try my technique for amusement some day, but said it would be harder for him because, "unlike you, I don't look like a respectable businessman."
I've received a lot of insults, but few nastier than that. I went to get another beer, then sat at the opposite end of the Rich Bastards Club until it was time for my next flight.
- 16 December 1998
- Runaway Weather Balloon, Grunting Cod
- I have again crossed the Atlantic, which isn't as easy as it sounds.
This has been a bad year for transatlantic travel. First, there was the runaway Canadian weather balloon. In July, a huge Canadian weather balloon got loose and began drifting east. This was a very big deal because this was a very big balloon--about as tall as a fifty-story building. The balloon drifted across Canada and over the North Atlantic.
The balloon was so huge that it was a danger to commercial passenger jets. That's when the fun started. The Canadian Air Force scrambled two fighter jets to shoot down the runaway balloon. The pilots fired off a thousand rounds of ammo ... and didn't even hit it! Not once!
Now this is where things get curious, or at least paranoid. I remembered hearing the weather balloon story on several BBC radio broadcasts over several days, but there wasn't a single mention of the event anywhere on the BBC's extensive Internet site. I then looked elsewhere on the Internet, and couldn't find a single mention of the farce anywhere. Now I know it would be nearly impossible to kill a story like that on every Internet site, but empirical evidence suggests that the embarrassed Canadians just might have pulled it off.
And then there are the grunting cod. Norwegian scientists have discovered the cods' mating grunts are loud enough to mask the sound of "suspicious vessels" (read Russian submarines). The scientists have suggested maritime traffic avoid the cods' spawning ground during the height of the mating season in February and March.
How sadly ironic. My friends on the east coast of North America are facing financial problems because of the collapse of the cod fishery at the same time the Norwegians are living in fear of the hordes of the grunting beasties. Despite the hardships and dangers, it's somewhat reassuring to know that transatlantic travel isn't entirely routine.
- 17 December 1998
- Interactive Art Defined
- Barry asked me if I wanted to go to an exhibit of interactive art, but I declined. In my experience, interactive art means standing behind a person seated at a computer in a gallery who doesn't know what s/he's doing and who won't let go of the mouse.
- 18 December 1998
- Alain's confused by analog clocks. For decades, the last thing he sees every night and the first thing he sees every morning is a clock reflected in the huge mirror above his dresser. As a result, he's used to seeing analog clocks going in what most other people would describe as a counterclockwise direction. Alain's reinforced his perception by buying a novelty watch that also goes in the same direction.
Alain's lucky that there aren't many analog clocks around.
- 19 December 1998
- A Good Hoax Prematurely Abandoned
- I recently read an article about a writer who had a good idea s/he later negated with a bad idea. Anon (the writer requested anonymity) has submitted lots of pieces to lots of publications. Like many other writers, Anon has lots of rejection slips and few published pieces to show for all the work. Unlike many other writers, Anon developed a clever ploy for getting the attention of the editor of a well-known publication.
Anon submitted a piece to the New Yorker under the name of Bruce McCall, a regular contributor. (To confuse things even more, Bruce McCall isn't Bruce McCall's real name, but that's another story.) New Yorker Articles Editor Susan Morrison responded with "gushing praise" and an invitation to join her and comedian/ actor/ New Yorker writer Steve Martin for lunch.
Instead of following through on the hoax, Anon took his/her stepfather's advice to "get away from the whole thing as fast as I could" and withdrew the piece.
It would have been nice if Anon had the chutzpah to complete what s/he started, although the success or failure of the endeavor wouldn't have had much effect on what many people know and many more suspect: when it comes to publishing, who you know and what your name is counts for a lot more than who you are and what you write.
I remember reading a few years ago about some writers who tried the same experiment the other way around. They submitted famous novels in the form of typed manuscripts to big publishers under unknown pseudonyms. The publishers, of course, rejected them and provided hilarious literary criticism of what the authors could do to improve their first drafts.
Ha ha ho ho and hee hee!
- 20 December 1998
- Deborah's Cat Litter
- Deborah uses a custom blend of cat litter: twenty percent gourmet cat litter, twenty-five percent high-tech cat litter, thirty-five percent organic cat litter, with normal cat litter for the remainder. Her cats don't seem very impressed one way or the other and neither am I. Her custom cat box doesn't smell any better or worse than any other cat box.
- 21 December 1998
- The Fall of the Pedant
- Beryl invited guests for a solstice dinner tonight, and I'm in trouble. I pointed out that the solstice isn't until 1:41:58 Greenwich Mean Time tomorrow morning. No one likes a pedant at a solstice dinner.
- 22 December 1998
- I went to a party that cost eight dollars to enter unless you brought a snowflake, in which case admission was free. I made a cheap snowflake; the party piece will go on my résumé as a commission.
- 23 December 1998
- The Dentist's Bad Jokes
- Fred told me he went to the dentist with a pain in his jaw, and that the dentist told him the pain was all in his head. Fred said he didn't laugh, which, in retrospect, he thought may have been a mistake. The dentist didn't offer him any anesthetic before drilling.
- 24 December 1998
- Christmas Lice
- It's the night before Christmas,
and all through the house,
but one creature is stirring,
and that's the louse.
I am that louse.
- 25 December 1998
- The 0°0° Red Light District
- Another Christmas, another misery. Today I'm in trouble for telling my little niece that Santa and his reindeer are so tired and hungry after delivering gifts to the whole planet that the first thing they do when they get back to the north pole is to have a big barbecue with Rudolph as the guest of honor.
"They do?" she asked.
I replied that was in fact true, but that "guest of honor" was a euphemism for butchering poor Rudolph. I told her that Santa and Ms. Claus had a three-acre plate of Rudolph steaks and the reindeer and elves all ate Rudolph burgers.
That was a big mistake on my part.
Her face turned read, and she screamed "That's not true! You're lying!"
"I can prove it," I said. "There's no electricity at the North Pole. Why do you think all the glowing lights on Santa's tree are all red? Those are the noses of all the previous Rudophs. And why do you think Rudolph never gets old like all the other reindeer? That's because they pick a young tender one each year to be the new Rudolph."
"You stink!" she shrieked before she ran away crying.
I was upset, too, since I didn't get a chance to explain to her that all the elves are really bad children that Santa has kidnapped; all the elves are really slave labor.
Bah wretched humbug.
- 26 December 1998
- Semtex Tampons
- Carole was late for boxing day after being detained at Charles de Gaulle airport for seven hours. The French police thought her tampons were explosives; they read the word "femtex" on the label as "semtex." Carole didn't help things by telling the chief inspector that he was such an imbecile that he made the rest of the French look like mere idiots in comparison.
Carole had cooled down by the time she got here. Nevertheless, she said she was thinking of making a tampon out of real semtex and mailing it to the chief inspector. I told her that was a bad idea: practical jokes are usually wasted on both the police and the French.
- 27 December 1998
- Reading by Chance and Imperative
- I was trying to find something on the Internet and, as usual, found something else. Today's find was an anonymous author's précis of Tom Wolfe's essay The Painted Word:
The author makes three main points:
- Being a modern artist is itself an art and requires a talented performer. The artist must be able to live in a "bohemian" lifestyle and at the same time remain in the public eye.
- The public has no say as to what is popular or not in the art world. The artists among themselves, the art critics, and the museum and gallery curators decide what is or is not accepted into the canon of true art.
- Over time, the art theory has become the true Art in the modern art setting. In the historical debate of "which comes first, the art or the art theory," art theory has clearly pulled ahead. Flatness and realistic nonrealism have become the prototypes for the creation of any art. Even the printed word suffices to be considered art.
I agree with most of that, which leaves me wondering whether I should read Wolfe's entire piece. If the author did a good job distilling the original to its essence, then the rest would be artful filler. In addition, I generally prefer to read things that challenge my beliefs rather than support them.
As with most of my reading, I'll leave it to chance. If someone shoves a copy of The Painted Word into my hands and says "read this" then I will. If they don't I probably won't.
- 28 December 1998
- The Semantics of Recording
- It's almost the end of the year, and that means Bruce should be about finished with his volume of recordings that was supposed to be done about the end of the year. I want to ask him about the status of his project, but I don't quite know the right words to use.
It's not the usual problem of asking someone how a prematurely announced project is progressing; Bruce is one of the few people I know who may be expected to complete what he said he'd do. That's in marked contrast to the legions of people who've made the fatal mistake of announcing "I'm writing a novel." Such novels are never ever completed. (In a rare demonstration of common sense, I both started and aborted my first novel in complete secrecy.)
I have a semantic obstacle in querying Bruce about his recordings, a problem that didn't exist twenty years ago. Back then, I would have simply asked him if his album was done, album defined as "a phonograph record." These days, only a minuscule percentage of new recordings are released as phonograph records, so now I don't know what to say.
- 29 December 1998
- Sixty Years of Anti-coffee
- I just read that instant coffee was invented sixty years ago. That came as quite a surprise; I always thought instant coffee, like Tang or Teflon, was one of the dubious trickle-down benefits of American space program. It turns out that instant coffee was originally developed by the Swiss in the 1930s to take advantage of Brazilian coffee surpluses.
Nestlé launched Nescafé in 1938 after eight years of research. Instant Maxwell House coffee followed in 1942, but wasn't available to civilians until after World War Two.
Although Nestlé's vile invention hasn't generated as much human suffering as, say, its third world baby formula marketing scam, it could be argued that the misery generated by anti-coffee is more universal.
Example: a friend told me about her overpriced dinner in a pretentious Colombian restaurant. After the meal, a waiter came by with a silver pitcher and a starched white linen bag hanging from his arm. Anyone who asked for coffee got a cup of tepid water followed by a silver spoonful of instant coffee from the bag!
Example: on my first trip to Greece, I noticed that almost every menu featured three drinks I'd rarely if ever heard of. Retsina was great, ouzo was passable, and Nes was Nescafé!
Example: prepare a strong cup of coffee made with freshly-roasted beans and a cup of instant anti-coffee. Compare and contrast.
- 30 December 1998
- The Last Uncomplicated New Year's Eve Eve for Years
- Tomorrow is new year's eve unless you're one of the billion or two people who use the Chinese, Jewish, Muslim, or some other calendar. Tomorrow is 1998 and the day after tomorrow is 1999; tomorrow and the day after tomorrow are both in the twentieth century, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow are both in the second millennium. No one's arguing about semantics now, but everyone will in a year.
One camp maintains that this millennium ends on 31 December 1999, the pedant faction insists than the next millennium won't begin until 1 January 2001. I figure I'll play it safe and celebrate every night between the two dates.
- 31 December 1998
- Leica Carrot
- I've been telling myself for ages that it's time to get out of the bad conceptual art rut I've been in for years, and 1999 just might be the year to do it. My 1996 artist's notebook of sorts was called 1996 Exactly Almost. I used Fifty-Three Weeks a Year for 1997, and this year's pieces have the generic title It Happens Every Day, Periodically. I'm going to call next year's notebook Notes, Art, Portraits, and Filler, a linguistic move intended to force me to make photographic portraits, something I've intended to do for some time.
I have a sinister ulterior motive for this approach. It's been over half a lifetime since I bought a new Leica, and I quite fancy one of the new ones with a light meter inside it. It is of course a mistake to hope to achieve even a modicum of satisfaction from consumerism in general and technology in particular, but hope springs eternal. Especially on the eve of a new year.
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©1998 David Glenn Rinehart